The greatest fear for anyone in an emergency situation is that they will not know what to do. No matter how many times we go through a fire drill or other Emergency Action Plan (EAP) walkthrough, when an actual crisis happens, the average person feels overwhelmed by the moment, adrenaline takes over, and they can find it hard to focus on what they need to do in order to keep themselves safe. Adding traditional emergency alarm systems into that mix (sirens, strobe lights, etc.) only heightens their fear and anxiety.
In a perfect world, when an emergency alert went out 100% of the impacted audience would understand the threat and know what to do. Still in this perfect world, building managers would be able to confirm that their message has been received and understood, and to track the compliance and progress of the occupants in following that guidance. Unfortunately, existing systems fall short to one extent or another.
The time has come to use technology advancements to augment and complete our legacy systems and EAPs. These new best-in-class technologies have the ability to revolutionize our response to crisis situations in high-rise facilities by employing robust delivery systems, using multiple touch-points, embracing positive redundancy by using every tool at our disposal, and wielding their collective power to achieve as close to the “perfect world scenario” as possible during times of disaster.
A Better Way
In today’s world, a high-rise facility administrator has to have the ability to communicate emergency alerts and guidance through multiple languages, using a variety of complementary delivery systems including text messages, text-to-speech, images, maps, and more. Integrating the ability in the messaging to catch people’s attention, so that the messages are impossible to ignore, will ensure that messages are seen immediately. Gathering valuable input on the evolving emergency from people within a specifically defined area would also be transformative and could have saved lives in situations similar the one experience at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando. And while we’re wishing, let’s go one step further and imagine that these transformative technologies can be easily and affordably integrated with existing EAPs and alarm systems, eliminating barriers to their adoption. Implementing these changes would undeniably dramatically increase the awareness, and enhance the safety, of everyone involved. The good news is that everything on this list is available right now. And as the Pew Research Center recently reported that the majority of Americans get their news via their smartphones, the odds are excellent that you are holding the answer in the palm of your hand.
According to a 2013 Morgan Stanley poll, 91 percent of adults keep their smartphone within arm’s reach 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Through their sheer ubiquity, and their out-of-the-box ability to run a variety of two-way information-delivery systems, there is no better way to instantly communicate urgent information in a crisis situation. Further, smartphones are ideally suited to serve as a hub of helpful information and actionable content for members of your community, with their ability to quickly display pictures, videos and other useful documents.
Sending announcements and alerts in one language that are instantly translated into the user’s chosen languages to user’s mobile device in impacted areas, ensures that messages are not only timely, but also useful. This dramatically expands the user’s understanding and awareness of their surroundings and reduces their on-premise anxiety. Adding the ability to override the notification settings on a device, causing the device to make noise until the message is acted upon, provides a stark contrast from text messages and email alerts, or intercom announcements.
All of these many attributes are currently available and only scratch the surface of the growing potential for smartphone use in managing safer buildings.
Safe and Sound
As a high-rise building manager, there is no greater responsibility than maintaining the safety of your tenants and their visitors. Every EAP is enhanced through an effective messaging delivery system. Even the most well-considered plan will fall short if it fails to engage its intended audience at the exact moment that it is needed. If that emergency call to action fails to reach 100% of your audience, isn’t noticed, comes too late, or lacks the specific details that provide the clarity needed to make it actionable, then it will fail, either entirely or in part. And as the protectors of their safety, building managers should do everything in their power to get as close as reasonably possible to 100% success. By leveraging the near-universal presence of smartphones in our communities, and taking advantage of their immense sophistication and power to provide instantaneous, two-way communication in emergencies, high-rise building managers can bring a new level of safety and enhanced peace of mind to the occupants of their buildings.